This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2000).
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Jackson County District Court
File No. K0001052
Mike Hatch, Attorney General, Suite 500, 525 Park Street, St. Paul, MN 55103; and
Mark Steffan, Jackson County Attorney, Robert C. O’Conner, Assistant County Attorney, Jackson County Attorney’s Office, Suite 2D, 405 Fourth Street, Jackson, MN 56143-1588 (for respondent)
Brian T. Pierce, Law Office of Brian T. Pierce, 310 First Street, Box 227, Jackson, MN 56143 (for appellant)
Considered and decided by Hanson, Presiding Judge, Schumacher, Judge, and Stoneburner, Judge.
Appellant Brian Thomas Maznio appeals from a jury verdict finding him guilty of domestic assault and fifth-degree assault. Because the district court did not abuse its discretion in evidentiary rulings and the evidence is sufficient to sustain the jury verdict, we affirm.
Maznio and Dawn Meyer lived together for four years and have a child in common. After Meyer obtained a Domestic Abuse Order for Protection against Maznio for an incident of domestic abuse that occurred on July 11, 2000, Jackson County initiated a child-protection action for Maznio’s children from a prior marriage and the child he shares with Meyer. At a July 26 initial hearing in the child-protection matter, Maznio became distraught. The proceedings were continued, but Meyer, Maznio, the guardian ad litem (Markus) and the county social worker assigned to the case (Mattson) agreed to meet in the basement break room of the Jackson County Human Services building to discuss visitation between Maznio and the child he shares with Meyer.
The discussion turned to Maznio’s wanting to say “goodbye” on his “last” visit with the child. Meyer stated that (1) Maznio had been making suicide threats and (2) she believed Maznio wanted to say goodbye to their child because he was going to kill himself . In response to Meyer’s statement, Maznio became angry and made a statement interpreted by the three witnesses as a threat. Maznio reached down toward his right leg. Mattson believed that Maznio was “reaching for a weapon of some kind” because he heard an “unsnapping” sound. Meyer believed that Maznio was reaching for a knife she knew he sometimes carried in his boot. Maznio testified that he never carried a knife in his boot, did not have a knife at the meeting and reached down to was scratch his calf.
Mattson, believing it necessary to call 911, started to stand up. Maznio grabbed his arm. Mattson grabbed Maznio’s arm. Markus, fearing for Meyer’s safety, told Meyer to run. Meyer fled the room. She testified that she was frightened and was unable to open the door to get out of the basement.
According to Mattson, Maznio then pushed Mattson off of his chair onto the floor and ran out of the room. Maznio testified that he asked Mattson to “let go,” and when Mattson did not do so, Maznio pushed Mattson. Mattson yelled for someone “to pull the emergency button” and ran after Maznio. Maznio turned around, ran into Mattson in the hallway knocking him to the floor, then ran up the stairs and left the building.
Subsequently, Maznio was charged with terroristic threats, domestic assault, and fifth-degree assault. Minn. Stat. § 609.713, subd. 1 (2000); Minn. Stat. § 609.2242, subd. 1(1) (2000); Minn. Stat. § 609.224, subd. 1(1) (2000). A jury found Maznio not guilty of terroristic threats, guilty of domestic assault, and guilty of fifth-degree assault. Maznio appeals, arguing that (1) the district court abused its discretion by admitting evidence that he had a habit of carrying a knife in his boot and evidence of prior acts of domestic abuse and (2) there is insufficient evidence to support the verdict.
1. Evidentiary rulings
Appellate courts largely defer to the district court’s evidentiary rulings, which will not be overturned absent a clear abuse of discretion. State v. Kelly, 435 N.W.2d 807, 813 (Minn. 1989). If the district court has erred in admitting evidence, the reviewing court determines whether there is “a reasonable possibility that the wrongfully admitted evidence significantly affected the verdict.” State v. Post, 512 N.W.2d 99, 102 n.2 (Minn. 1994). If there is a reasonable possibility that the verdict might have been more favorable to the defendant without the evidence, then the error is prejudicial. Id.
Evidence of an individual’s habit despite whether corroborated or not and regardless of the presence of eyewitnesses, “is relevant to prove that the conduct of the person * * * on a particular occasion was in conformity with the habit.” Minn. R. Evid. 406. “Habit” is defined in the committee comment as “‘one’s regular response to a repeated specific situation.’” Minn. R. Evid. 406 1989 comm. cmt. (quoting Charles McCormick, Evidence § 195 (2d ed. 1972)). “Whether the response is sufficiently regular and whether the specific situation has been repeated enough to constitute habit are questions for the trial court.” Id. (citing Kenneth M. Lewan, The Rationale of Habit Evidence, 16 SYRACUSE L. REV. 39 (1964)).
Maznio contends that the district court abused its discretion by permitting Meyer to testify that it was Maznio’s habit to carry a knife in his right boot because the evidence lacked foundation. At trial, Meyer testified that (1) she and Maznio knew each other for seven years and lived together for four years; (2) during the four years she lived with Maznio she saw Maznio get dressed every morning, regularly saw him putting on his boots, and saw him getting ready to go out in the evening “[p]retty much everytime”; (3) Maznio owned what he called a Buck knife for as long as she knew him; (4) Maznio had carried the knife in his back pocket but in the last year, when he owed someone money, started to carry the knife in his boot; (5) Maznio carried the knife in his boot “[j]ust a couple of times”; and (6) Maznio started carrying the knife in his boot more frequently in recent times. Although the evidence was apparently admitted to prove that Maznio had a knife in his boot on July 26, the evidence was also relevant to explain why Maznio would know that the action of reaching for his boot would cause Meyer to fear immediate bodily harm or death.
The district court’s finding that there was sufficient foundation to admit evidence that it was Maznio’s “habit” to carry a knife in his right boot on some occasions is not a clear abuse of discretion and the evidence was otherwise admissible to explain why Maznio would have reason to know that the action of reaching for his boot would cause Meyer to fear harm. The district court did not abuse its discretion in admitting evidence, in connection with the domestic assault charge, that Maznio was known by Meyer to carry a knife in his boot.
It is undisputed that Meyer did not share this information with Mattson, so the habit evidence was not relevant to the fifth-degree assault conviction. Mattson’s belief that Maznio was reaching for a knife was based on an “unsnapping sound” Mattson heard. There is nothing in the record indicating that counsel for Maznio requested any type of limiting instruction about the use of this evidence. But if there was any error in allowing this testimony or failing to limit its application, the error was harmless. Maznio was acquitted of the charge of terroristic threats and his conviction of fifth-degree assault against Mattson was based on evidence that Maznio knocked Mattson to the ground in the break room and in the hallway and was unrelated to the possibility of Maznio having a knife. There is no reasonable possibility that the exclusion of this habit evidence would have significantly affected the verdict of guilty of fifth-degree assault against Mattson. See Post, 512 N.W.2d at 102 n.2.
Evidence of Prior Domestic Abuse
Evidence of similar prior conduct by the accused against the victim of domestic abuse, or against other family or household members, is admissible unless the probative value is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice, confusion of the issue, or misleading the jury, or by considerations of undue delay, waste of time, or needless presentation of cumulative evidence. “Similar prior conduct” includes * * * evidence of domestic abuse * * * .
Minn. Stat. § 634.20 (2000). “Domestic abuse” includes “physical harm, bodily injury,
or assault” and the “infliction of fear of imminent physical harm, bodily injury, or assault” against a family or household member. Minn. Stat. § 518B.01, subd. 2(a), (b) (2000).
Maznio alleges that the district court abused its discretion by admitting evidence of prior acts of domestic abuse between Meyer and Maznio and contends that his convictions of fifth-degree assault and domestic assault should be reversed.
A two-part inquiry is used to determine the admissibility of evidence of prior acts of domestic abuse. State v. Waino, 611 N.W.2d 575, 579 (Minn. App. 2000). The first inquiry is whether “the challenged testimony [is] evidence of similar prior conduct.” Id. The second inquiry is whether the “probative value [of the testimony is] substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice.” Id.
As to the first inquiry, the state argues Maznio’s conduct on July 11, 2000 was similar to the domestic assault on July 26, 2000. See Minn. Stat. § 634.20 (defining “similar prior conduct” as domestic abuse). At trial, Meyer testified that on July 11, 2000, an angry Maznio threw her head up against a wall, hit her in the face on her eye and cheek with his fist, started to choke her, and threatened that “he wanted to break every bone in [her] body.” Meyers testified that Maznio physically and verbally abused her on other occasions as well. Although Maznio did not physically assault Meyer on July 26, his angry response to statements by Meyer, despite the presence of the social worker and guardian ad litem, is sufficiently similar to Maznio’s past angry assaults to satisfy the first inquiry.
As to the second inquiry, the probative value of Meyer’s testimony was not substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice. See Waino, 611 N.W.2d at 579 (noting that “[w]hether the probative value of prior bad acts outweighs their prejudicial effect ‘is a matter left to the discretion of the trial court’”) (quoting State v. Graham, 371 N.W.2d 204, 208 (Minn. 1985)).
Evidence of prior acts of domestic abuse on the part of Maznio against Meyer helped to explain the context in which the charged assault occurred.” Id. (“The evidence of similar prior conduct by Waino against H.L. explains the context in which the charged assault occurred.”) The Minnesota Supreme Court “has ‘on numerous occasions recognized the inherent [probative] value of evidence of past acts of violence committed by the same defendant against the same victim.’” Id. (alteration in the original) (quoting State v. Williams, 593 N.W.2d 227, 236 (Minn. 1999)). Meyer’s testimony has significant probative value.
Furthermore, the district court mitigated any prejudicial effect of Meyer’s testimony when it twice instructed the jury regarding the prior-domestic-abuse evidence. Id. (stating that the “prejudicial effect” presented by testimony regarding similar prior conduct by the defendant against the victim was “mitigated by the trial court’s cautionary instruction to the jury.”) The district court instructed the jury (1) during Meyer’s testimony, that Meyer’s testimony regarding the July 11, 2000 incident was not the incident that Maznio was on trial for, and (2) during final instructions, that the prior acts of domestic abuse were admitted “for the limited purposes of assisting you in assessing the relationship between the defendant and Dawn Meyer.” This instruction limited use of the evidence to the domestic-assault charge, so admission of the evidence could not have affected the verdict of guilty on the fifth-degree assault charge.
2. Sufficiency of evidence
In considering a claim of insufficient evidence, this court’s review is limited to a careful analysis of the record to determine whether the evidence, when viewed in the light most favorable to the conviction, is sufficient to allow the jurors to reach the verdict that they did. State v. Webb, 440 N.W.2d 426, 430 (Minn. 1989). The reviewing court will assume the jury believed the state’s witnesses and disbelieved any evidence to the contrary. State v. Moore, 438 N.W.2d 101, 108 (Minn. 1989). The reviewing court will not disturb the verdict if the jury, acting with due regard for the presumption of innocence and the requirement of proof beyond a reasonable doubt, could reasonably conclude the defendant was guilty of the charged offense. State v. Alton, 432 N.W.2d 754, 756 (Minn. 1988).
A conviction “based entirely on circumstantial evidence merits stricter scrutiny than convictions based in part on direct evidence.” State v. Jones, 516 N.W.2d 545, 549 (Minn. 1994) (citations omitted). “While it warrants stricter scrutiny, circumstantial evidence is entitled to the same weight as direct evidence.” State v. Bauer, 598 N.W.2d 352, 370 (Minn. 1999) (citation omitted). The circumstantial evidence must form a complete chain that, in view of the evidence as a whole, leads so directly to the guilt of the defendant as to exclude beyond a reasonable doubt any reasonable inference other than guilty. Jones, 516 N.W.2d at 549. A jury, however, is in the best position to evaluate circumstantial evidence, and its verdict is entitled to due deference. Webb, 440 N.W.2d at 430.
A person is guilty of fifth-degree assault if that person “intentionally inflicts or attempts to inflict bodily harm upon another.” Minn. Stat. § 609.224, subd. 1(2) (2000). “Intentionally” means that
[t]he actor either has a purpose to do the thing or cause the result specified or believes that the act performed by the actor, if successful, will cause that result. In addition, * * * the actor must have knowledge of those facts which are necessary to make the actor’s conduct criminal and which are set forth after the word “intentionally.”
Minn. Stat. § 609.02, subd. 9(3) (2000). “Bodily harm,” in turn, is defined as “physical pain or injury, illness, or any impairment of physical condition.” Minn. Stat. § 609.02, subd. 7 (2000).
Maznio argues that the evidence is insufficient to support his fifth-degree assault conviction because he was distraught and attempting to flee the visitation meeting and only “incidentally made contact with Mattson.” The evidence, however, shows that Maznio affirmatively shoved Mattson to the floor of the meeting room with two hands, supporting an inference that Maznio intentionally attempted to inflict bodily harm on Mattson. The record further indicates that Maznio’s contact with Mattson in the hallway was not incidental but intentional because Maznio, making no attempt to avoid contact with Mattson, “leaned a little bit and squatted at [Mattson’s] shoulders” as he ran into Mattson. Maznio’s conduct gives rise to an inference that he intentionally attempted to inflict bodily harm on Mattson by knocking Mattson to the floor twice. A reasonable jury could conclude that Maznio intentionally attempted to inflict bodily harm on Mattson, thereby committing fifth-degree assault.
A person is guilty of domestic assault when he or she “commits an act with intent to cause fear in another of immediate bodily harm or death” against a family or household member. Minn. Stat. § 609.2242, subd. 1(1) (2000). A family or household member includes “persons * * * who have resided together in the past” and “persons who have a child in common regardless of whether they have been married or have lived together at any time.” Minn. Stat. § 518B.01, subd. 2(b)(4), (5) (2000).
“With intent to” is defined as an individual that “has a purpose to do the thing or cause the result specified or believes that the act, if successful, will cause that result.” Minn. Stat. § 609.02, subd. 9(4) (2000). Intent is a “subjective state of mind usually established only by reasonable inference from surrounding circumstances.” State v. Schweppe, 306 Minn. 395, 401, 237 N.W.2d 609, 614 (1975)).
It is undisputed that Meyer and Maznio are family or household members as defined by the statute. Maznio contends that there is no evidence that he intended to cause Meyer fear of immediate bodily harm or death. We disagree. Meyer was allowed to testify about Maznio’s prior acts of domestic abuse and about her knowledge that he carried a knife in his boot on some occasions. She testified that she heard Maznio say, “Do you want to see how serious I am” and saw him reach for what she believed was a knife in his boot. Markus feared for Meyer and told her to run. Meyer testified that she ran in fear from Maznio and was so frightened that she could not open the door to get out of the basement. A reasonable jury could conclude, based on the evidence presented at trial, that Maznio caused Meyer to fear immediate bodily harm or death, thereby committing domestic assault.
 Mattson testified that Maznio said, “[D]o you want to see how serious I am.” Markus testified that Maznio said something like “[L]et’s just end it right here then.” Meyer testified that Maznio said, “We will take care of that right now.” Maznio testified that he said, “Fine, don’t believe me then and I will show you.”
 At trial Maznio, was found guilty of assault in the fifth degree under Minn. Stat. § 609.224, subd. 1(2) (2000).
 In State v. Waino, the court stated with regard to Minn. Stat. § 634.20 that
[t]he supreme court has noted that by this section the legislature has expressed an intent to remove evidence of similar prior conduct in domestic abuse prosecutions from the clear and convincing standard of rule 404(b).
611 N.W.2d 575, 579 (Minn. App. 2000) (citing State v. Cross, 577 N.W.2d 721, 726 n.2 (Minn. 1998)).